Wilkes County was the first county in Georgia formed under the Georgia Constitution of 1777. It was named for British Parliamentarian and American Independence supporter John Wilkes. Just three years later, the county seat Washington, was incorporated and became the first chartered town named for George Washington.
Washington-Wilkes has played a major role in not only Georgia's history but our nation's as well. The Revolutionary battle of Kettle Creek was fought in Wilkes County on February 14, 1779. This battle was responsible for driving the British out of northeast Georgia.
During the War Between the States Washington-Wilkes played host to the last cabinet meeting of the Confederacy which took place in the old Bank of Georgia building- also known as the Heard House-and was attended by Jefferson Davis. It was also the last place that the infamous Confederate gold was tracked... and never found.
Here are some other interesting facts about Washington-Wilkes:
- Washington has more historic structures per capita of any other place in Georgia.
- Wilkes County had the first operating cotton gin in the United State (c.1793).
- The first female newspaper editor in Georgia (and probably the Southeast), Sarah Porter Hillhouse lived in Washington. She edited The Moniter, c.1803.
- The first white female executed in Georgia, Polly Barclary, was hanged (May 13, 1806), just west of Washington's town square, for conspiring to kill her husband.
- The First United Methodist Church in Georgia was established in Washington-Wilkes in 1787.
- Washington was the home of Baptist minister Reverend Jesse Mercer who wrote many world famous books about the Christian faith and was the founder of Mercer University in Macon, GA.
- Washington-Wilkes was the birthplace and home of Robert Augustus Toombs who a State Legislator, U.S. Representative and Senator, the First Secretary of State for the Confederacy, a Brigadier General during the War Between the States serving under General Lee, the father of the Georgia Constitution of 1877.
- Home of the first free public library in the state of Georgia. The Mary Willis Library was built in 1888 and has a beautiful Tiffany stained glass window depicting Mary Willis, William Shakespeare and an unknown figure (possibly the Apostle Peter or Paul). The architect was Edmund George Lind who also designed the Peabody Institute Library, part of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, the Milton Chandlier House in Decatur, GA and many other famous buildings in the South.
- The County's largest industry is and always has been agriculture, but manufacturing is also a large part of our local economy.
- Wilkes County's population is nearly 10,600 and Washington's is just over 4000 according to the most recent census.